Turn north off Highway 190 in Elton, Louisiana, and wind four or five miles along a narrow Parish road through fields and forests, cross a muddy bayou that you suspect is the boundary line between the edge of nowhere and the middle of nowhere, and just at the point you’d least expect civilization to spring from the forest, voila! You’re at the crossroads on the sovereign grounds of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Reservation. Tribal administrative, governmental, and recreational facilities line the two country roads that intersect there at the Chevron/convenience store right at the center of it all.
The Reservation is a novel and fascinating retreat from the familiar surroundings no more than 20 miles from my home. Part of the fascination results from the manner the Reservation springs up out of the verdant Southwest Louisiana wilderness along that lonely blacktop road, but more of the fascination derives from the rich culture that the Coushatta nation is striving to preserve on these grounds. On today’s trip, as a novelty, I enjoyed this exotic rencontre with Mr. and Mrs. Buffalo, grazing placidly on the spring pasture grass right along the main road. That’s not a sight one sees in South Louisiana, je t’assure!
The program I attended had a workforce development emphasis, but that’s really not what struck me. Earnest presentations revealing the tribal leaders’ determination to preserve their culture and their language, to keep from being swallowed up and assimilated by the Anglo-Cajun culture surrounding them, were passionate and compelling. The highlight of the day was the pronouncement of the blessing on the luncheon pronounced in the Koasati tongue by one of the senior ladies of the Tribe. I didn’t understand a word she said, but I did understand her sincerity, and no doubt God DID understand what she said. I believe that meal, along with all proceedings, was properly blessed. I certainly was, just for being there.